Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Poultry That Is Local and Tasty

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Poultry That Is Local and Tasty

Article excerpt

Cockroach Bay

the name doesn't exactly scream good eats, but I'm excited nevertheless when I see a welcome sign for the Ruskin landmark. Why? It means Ben Pate's poultry farm is only minutes away.

Pate purchased his land in 1972, when he worked as a Tampa firefighter. The 24-hour-on/48-hour-off firefighter life allowed him to grow a substantial plant nursery business, but he "got wiped out" during a terrible 1988 freeze. He tried out a variety of careers after that, even designed wedding cakes, but Pate didn't hit upon a consistent winner till 10 years ago, when he started raising heritage poultry.

While Pate began his poultry business with pheasants, quail and guinea-fowl, he's pared down his operation to focus on turkeys and chickens. He doesn't breed the animals himself; he orders them from hatcheries in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Once they arrive, though, he takes good care of them, using a free-range approach and a mix of healthy feeds.

As he and I wander around the poultry pens, his couple dozen "leftover" turkeys (they survived the Thanksgiving-Christmas rush) root around us freely, muttering to one another. The male bourbon reds puff up their feathers to intimidate us while the whites nibble at the ground.

The bourbon reds are more expensive than their white siblings and, according to the "experts," tastier, even though Pate is quick to remind me that all his birds have a "better flavor" than store- bought types. That's because he allows them to grow more slowly, lets them munch on plenty of grass and doesn't add fat to his feed. There are disadvantages to the approach: Pate points to the tree line on the edge of his property, a popular hangout for bobcats and coyotes. Letting the turkeys roam means having to keep a close eye on them.

Because of USDA rules, Pate can't sell his birds wholesale, but he has developed a deep repeat customer base from Naples to Brooksville. Customers stop by before Thanksgiving and, in the process, reserve a bird for the following year. …

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